Imagine living through the Coronavirus pandemic without the certainty of a roof over your head, or a place to call home. This is the harsh reality for many people seeking asylum in the UK, who are forced to live in chronic poverty as they wait to be granted refugee status. In the meantime, they live each day at risk of abuse, exploitation, and discrimination.
For our friends seeking asylum, one of the most powerful forms of social justice in action takes place at home, through refugee hosting schemes pairing volunteer hosts with refugees in desperate need of accommodation.
Through JRS UK’s hosting scheme, ‘At Home’, refugees are welcomed by individual households, parishes, or religious communities who are able and willing to offer accommodation for a three-month period. By opening their homes to a stranger, our volunteer hosts respond to the call for hospitality.
In his latest encyclical, Fratelli TuttiPope Francis renews his invitation to us all to take concrete steps to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate refugees and migrants seeking sanctuary on our shores: “The arrival of those who are different, coming from other ways of life and cultures, can be a gift” (Fratelli Tutti, 133). This gift is of a ‘culture of encounter’, through which host communities and new arrivals can exchange the gifts of one another’s culture and enrich all those involved.
One of our hosts, Nora, discussed her inspiration for getting involved with hosting:
“I had quite a big house for just myself, with spare rooms—for just me, you know? So, I couldn’t say no. The Lord was looking down on me, saying ‘what about those spare rooms?’ I am pleased I did it anyway.”
“I thought that it could have been me, you know? I could have been in that position. It is rewarding even though it’s just day-to-day living. But, nevertheless, at the end of the day, for her, [my guest], it is something big.”
Another host, Miko, reflected on his experience hosting refugee guests with JRS:
“It was just such a privilege to have somebody around. You know most people in life you meet you meet for a short amount of time and you get a sort of general impression of things. But if somebody is actually there, then you know there’s the possibility to have proper conversation and really learn.”
Volunteers are the driving force of our ‘At Home’ hosting scheme. They appreciate that behind the label ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’ is a person of dignity – a person with a story, hopes, dreams and fears; who like all of us, is seeking to get on with their life.
This mutual, sustained encounter between refugee and host puts principles of social justice into practice. It is an act of charity which upholds dignity, shows solidarity with the vulnerable, and increases avenues of participation for those who need it most.
Seeking asylum is a complex, drawn-out process during which refugee friends are banned from working and earning a living, lose the right to rent housing, and face multiple barriers to accessing healthcare. They live in a cycle of uncertainty and endless waiting that wastes time, and lives. Their physical and mental wellbeing suffers dramatically as they wait for an answer, living in the constant fear of street homelessness.
We often hear that our friends are forced to seek respite by sleeping on night buses to escape the streets of London, rely on friends who might host them for a night or two, or risk the exploitation and abuse sometimes associated with an offer of temporary shelter.
The security of a home to return to in the midst of this debilitating uncertainty allows JRS’s refugee friends to live with dignity – not constantly in a state of worry about where to sleep or find food and soap. These seemingly basic concerns can be all-consuming and prevent our refugee friends from thinking strategically about important decisions ahead.
One refugee guest, who has been hosted twice through JRS UK’s hosting scheme, told us:
“Before I was hosted with the JRS, I was living with a family, with a friend of a friend of mine. I [had been] evicted before this. I became homeless. So she took me in. But at the end it became so bad because she started treating me like I wasn’t a human being.”
“Hosting to me, it was like I was escaping, you know. It was a sort of an escape for me, I didn’t really expect too much… I just want to first of all, to escape and then certainly a place where there will be peace and you will be considered as a human being”
Another guest, Nadia, also hosted twice through the ‘At Home’ scheme, stated:
“From hosting, I learnt something very important in my life, psychologically, is that love can be given by anyone. Before that, I was always thinking that it was only my parents, and family, and best friends who can give me that love, but later on, I realised that it can be given by anyone.”
Unfortunately, at present our hosting scheme is in urgent need of more hosts. Many of our long-standing, regular hosts have recently had to withdraw from the project due to individual health concerns surrounding the pandemic. This has left us with very limited options of who we can accommodate and we are having to turn away people in desperate need of somewhere to stay. We are also anticipating a sharp increase in destitution amongst our refugee friends soon, as emergency accommodation provision provided by the Home Office and Local Authorities for those with No Recourse to Public Funds, comes to an end. Please consider whether you would be willing to give a refugee friend a chance to live in dignity and to learn from each other in a hosting placement.
If you live in the London area and would like to become a refugee host with JRS or want to know a bit more about the ‘At Home’ scheme before applying, please get in touch with Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7488 7310
Find out more about the scheme: www.jrsuk.net/at-home-hosting-scheme/